Men at Work

We may not have women’s skills, but we have our uses

To paraphrase Crazy Horse at Little Bighorn, “This is a good day to die”—journalistically speaking. I say that because I mean to write about men and women.

I’m hardly the first to do that. My friend Tracey Loscar authors the marvelous “When Johnny Met Rosie” column for EMS World. It’s an essential component of my continuing education. I find the subject matter—women—more rigorous than cardiology and pharmacology combined. If Tracey ever offered certification in AFLS (Advanced Female Listening Skills), I doubt I’d pass without multiple rounds of remediation.

I’m not a newcomer to the topic; you meet lots of women in 59 years. Having spent the last 20 of them in EMS, I can report that fieldwork doesn’t shed much light on the subject.

Gender-specific perception, rather than physiology, presents the biggest challenge. It’s a you’re-not-receiving-what-I’m-sending syndrome. I don’t understand why that is. Even if women do come from Venus, men come from women. You’d think some of the nurturing propagated by our mothers would penetrate the placental barrier. So why do men other than Alan Alda have trouble showing a sensitive side? Are Y chromosomes blocking our empathy receptors? Is anyone studying that?

A medic who once worked for me expressed similar frustration when we were commiserating about failed efforts at bridging the gender gap with our then-significant others. “Whatever happened to men just being men?” he asked. I didn’t know how to answer, mostly because I realized we were…gulp…sharing our feelings. With each other. In public. It made me want to knit something.

Perhaps men just need better examples set by their role models. Blame Emergency! How could we possibly get teary-eyed in front of a guy named Randolph Mantooth? Has there ever been a more alpha-male, in-your-face, don’t-touch-my-daughter name than Randolph Mantooth? I doubt it. Now, if Johnny Gage had been played by, say, Lyle Lovett, I think you’d see my male colleagues and me emoting more often.

Men have uses in the field. We lift things. Just this morning, I dragged a 160-pound man out of bed. I had to—the dogs were barking. Actually, we have strengths beyond strength. I call them the four Ps: protecting, providing, problem-solving and procreating. At least three of them have everyday uses in EMS:

• We protect partners and patients—sometimes partners from patients, sometimes vice versa.

• We provide lifesaving interventions, not to mention serviceable take-out.

• We solve problems directly, emphatically, enthusiastically and sometimes effectively. That’s because we have the ability to focus on therapeutics while ignoring distractors like hidden handguns and toxic waste. My wife, who is also my ex-partner, could tell you stories about my tunnel vision.

Just don’t ask us to do more than one of those Ps at a time; we’re not good multitaskers. But women are, which begs a not-so-radical recommendation: Why not purposely partner men with women? Wouldn’t that cover all the proverbial bases? Empathy would coexist with security in the back of the ambulance as partners played to each other’s strengths. And patients of both genders would have access to anatomically correct caregivers. It’s a win-win-win-win.

Meanwhile, ladies, there may be hope for me. While I was writing this, I found myself debating The Lovely Helen about the motivations of the characters—not the actors—in a made-for-TV drama I would have termed a “chick flick” during my less enlightened years. I think I even used phrases like “Looks aren’t everything” and “She thinks she’s all that,” but only because I’ve heard Helen say those things about…never mind. What’s important is I’m learning. Give me another 10 years, and I’ll probably be crying at Bambi sequels.

If you’re female and the least bit offended by anything I’ve said, I apologize—not that I understand why you’d feel that way. But really, I’m sorry for whatever it is I said, or thought about saying, or didn’t say, or might at some point in the future think about saying or not saying.

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